PRESS RELEASE: Community Faces New Obstacles to Prevent Lead Poisoning due to COVID-19


October 19th, 2020


ROCHESTER, N.Y. – This week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (October 25th – 31st) and local experts are increasingly alarmed at the unprecedented obstacles Monroe County faces to prevent childhood lead poisoning due to the effects of COVID-19. A troubling combination of factors such as children spending more time indoors in potentially unsafe housing, a recent surge of ‘do-it-yourself’ home renovations potentially exposing families to toxic paint and lead dust, and a diversion of resources away from other public health issues to COVID-19 could put more local young children at risk.

“Covid-19 has presented a major upheaval in the lives of our community’s families and significantly increased the likelihood that vulnerable children will be lead poisoned,” said Cathe Bullwinkle, Registered Nurse and Lead Consultant. “Ongoing efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 have resulted in the disruption of children’s education and as colder weather arrives, children will be spending even more time indoors — which puts them at higher risk for ‘lead dust’ exposure. During these challenging times, it is essential that families see their healthcare providers for regular preventative visits. These visits insure your child will be screened for lead hazard exposure, receive routine immunizations, receive a ‘flu’ shot, and be monitored for any health or behavioral concerns.”

Monroe County and the City of Rochester have a long history of proactively fighting for children’s health when it comes to lead poisoning, shown by an 85% decrease in children reported with lead poisoning since 2010 – in part due to efforts of the county health department, city code enforcement and a revolutionary local ordinance passed in 2006.

The latest data on childhood lead exposure from the Monroe County Department of Public Health supports that there was progress as well as an increase of children impacted by lead poisoning. The total number of children in Monroe County who were tested for lead in 2019 increased by nearly 1,000 children over 2018, and also exceeded the total number of children tested in any year since 2016. In 2018, 13,214 children were tested in

the entire county, while 14,207 children were tested in 2019. The total number of children with confirmed Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLLs) of 5-9 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter) decreased by 10% in the county and by 5% in the city, while the number of children detected with confirmed EBLLs of 10 ug/dL or higher remained stable. While there is no “safe” level of lead, the CDC and New York State define an elevated level as 5 ug/dL or higher.

“The staff at the Monroe County Department of Public Health work tirelessly to help families exposed to lead and to educate the public in an effort to reduce future cases of childhood lead poisoning,” said Dr. Michael Mendoza, Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health. “Our community has dealt with a lot these past few months due to the pandemic, but we are enthusiastic at the progress being made. The entire community will need to be more vigilant as children may be more vulnerable to this issue.”

Even small amounts of lead in a young child’s body can potentially cause permanent learning and behavioral problems, often with no physical symptoms. This damage can include lower IQ, a decreased ability to concentrate, hyperactivity, speech, and even emotional issues that can predispose the child to delinquency later in life. Old paint in housing is our region’s most common source of lead for children, and any house built before 1978 (when lead paint was banned) is likely to contain lead risks including lead-containing dust from deteriorated paint.

“A child with lead poisoning can face a lifetime of health and behavioral issues,” says Family Nurse Practitioner and Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning Chair Mel Callan. “We know this is an issue that disproportionately affects Black, Brown, and low-income families or really anyone who lives in an old house. On top of the other issues these children are facing due to COVID-19 like a laid off parent or needing to learn virtually from home, they might have to deal with ADHD or other future issues brought on by lead exposure.”

While more time at home due to the pandemic can increase a child’s risk of being exposed to lead, there are actions families can take to mitigate the risk. Simple steps like washing children’s hands with soap and water, a habit that is especially important now due to COVID-19, can also help prevent accidental ingestion of lead
dust. It’s especially important to know the potential risks of renovating old homes which might contain lead and it is also important to use an EPA-certified contractor to do any home renovation work. Other steps like cleaning windowsills with liquid cleaners to control dust, taking off shoes before coming in the house, and regularly washing off items like toys and pacifiers can all help lower risk of ingesting lead. Families can learn more about how to protect their children by visiting or by calling 585-224-3125.